This fall, dozens of SU players, coaches, support staff and donors will board five 757 charter jets for trips to Louisiana State, North Carolina State, Miami, Florida State and Louisville, racking up about 4,537 miles along the way — the program’s highest total since 2011.As college football teams play spread-out schedules to satisfy expansive nonconference and TV schedules, airlines have cut back on the number of charters they provide. This creates a mismatch of higher demand for college football charters and lessened supply from airlines. This spring, major airlines cited soaring costs while considering the possibility of cutting their charter business altogether, according to Bloomberg.Though most airlines will continue to fly NCAA teams, many will focus on the more profitable and predictable commercial business. Because while transporting teams to and from games can be lucrative, it poses logistical challenges for athletic departments and airlines alike.At SU, the road to bowl eligibility begins long before the season opener, the first snaps of training camp and the annual spring game in the Carrier Dome. It begins months, sometimes years, in advance, inside the offices of Herman Frazier and Brad Wittke at Manley Field House. Frazier, SU’s senior deputy athletics director, and Wittke, SU football’s director of operations, work together on conference calls, schedule outlines and negotiate to ensure every detail runs smoothly for game day.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textCourtesy of SU Athletics“The goal is that nothing travel wise has any type of effect on the game,” said Wittke, who handles budget management, travel meals and the team calendar. “From the flight, food on the flight, to the hotel to the buses, none of that should ever have a negative impact on what the team is doing on the field.”In 2017, Syracuse signed a contract with Private Jet Services Group, a New Hampshire-based charter company that flies about 20 NCAA teams. After years of working with United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways, each of which has since reduced its charter offerings, SU found some stability in an otherwise wobbly sector. Frazier and Wittke bring the same obsessiveness over Syracuse’s rigid schedule. On Friday before Saturday games, SU players get screened by TSA-approved security contractors outside of Manley Field House before boarding buses, in an alleyway near the parking lot. Players pass screening near a back door, hop on the buses and ride the Department of Public Safety-escorted buses to Syracuse Hancock International Airport. During the 10-mile ride, nobody may get on or off the bus until it pulls up to the aircraft on the tarmac.Team equipment is usually sent via bus a day in advance, as airlines cannot fly the extra weight of football pads and training equipment. Up to 70 players can travel to conference games, per Atlantic Coast Conference rules.Cost varies on location and time of year, but most big-time college football teams pay north of $150,000 for each trip to and from an opponent. Some private jets, said Jeffrey McGill, a Queens College business professor who specializes in the airline industry, can cost as much as $38,000 per flying hour. Tacking on additional fuel costs, meals and service fees bumps the total to as much as $400,000 to $500,000 for a round trip across several states.To negate the rising costs, several schools are sponsored by airlines. Washington plays its home games on Alaska Airlines Field and uses the airline for every road game.Power 5 schools that don’t play in stadiums with airline naming rights deals haven’t found scheduling as easy. Ohio State, the 2014 national champion, was nearly left without ways to get to games this season. Early this year, OSU’s administrative services manager, Jennifer Bulla, “ didn’t sleep for two weeks,” when United refused to quote the school on fares. Other schools faced similar dilemmas.After two weeks, the airlines renewed conversations. United and the Buckeyes will work together again this fall.Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor“If commercial airlines pulled off, I didn’t know what my next option was going to be,” Bulla said. “Do airlines want to be in this business anymore? You don’t know. I just take it one year at a time.”Bulla works on each season’s itinerary a year or two ahead, giving her wiggle room when things go wrong. Markets and aircraft availability change by day and fuel prices fluctuate.One airline, Southwest, has flown college football teams for about 25 years. It’s one of the largest domestic networks carrier in the United States, giving it an intricate network to get charter planes to airports near universities faster than a smaller airline would. Southwest is set to fly about 20 teams this year.Charter cutbacks, experts said, are linked to fuel costs. The baggage for football teams contributes to a complex loading process. Sometimes, airlines divert from flight schedules to accommodate teams, which is inefficient. Many opt to use the aircraft to gain revenue elsewhere, notably through commercial flights.“You have a very expensive asset sitting in a location you can’t use for something else,” said Bert Craus, Southwest’s charter business manager. “The biggest challenge is aircraft availability. It’s kind of like a ballerina act, looking at airplane times to maintain our charter business.”McGill said airlines can still profit on charters — Southwest continues to expand its charter business — but that it takes complex scheduling and pricing algorithms to calculate whether it’s worth it. Mostly, that’s on a trip by trip basis.Schools put out bids for charter partners though more airlines are saying no. Some programs are left to consider bussing to games, a cheaper but time-consuming alternative. This spring, United, among others, did not quote teams on pricing for this season. They considered cutting charter business for NCAA and several NFL teams.Taking precautions on flights can benefit schools. This fall, Boise State will fly to San Diego for a late kickoff. San Diego’s airport has an 11:30 p.m. curfew, however, so Boise State will bus an hour to an airport near Los Angeles.Two or three years ago, Boise State flew to a small airport near the campus of Wyoming. As snow fell and temperatures dropped below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, players sat on the tarmac for over an hour. Even though Syracuse is the snowiest college campus in the U.S., Frazier said SU football has not run into such weather-related problems.Frazier and Wittke feel fortunate Syracuse hasn’t faced other issues that fellow schools have encountered, either. SU’s largest issue involves donors who want to take flight with the team.“We’re arguing now over how many people can get on the plane to go to LSU,” Frazier joked.Banner photo courtesy of SU Athletics Graphics by Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor Comments Published on August 30, 2017 at 12:39 am Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.
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